Education is sometimes thought of as the means of reducing structural inequalities within and across societies. Nevertheless, access to education itself can be distributed in unequal ways, contingent on the very structures it is supposed to even out. A historical perspective reveals that educational opportunities were often tailored to the social background or gender of the students. Sometimes, such differentiations have been institutionalized as parallel strands within education systems, which can result in the exclusion of certain groups from mainstream education and subsequent career opportunities. This opening panel seeks to address general questions and concepts with a view to the relationship among inequality, education and social power, such as: When and how do structures of education work in favor, and when do they work against social mobility? How are issues of inequality and education dealt with in different countries and regions, which topics are considered crucial and which actors are involved in the debate?
Conference Paper to be presented by Sarada Balagopalan
Sarada Balagopalan is an Associate Professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi, and at the Department of Childhood Studies, Rutgers University, Camden. She is the author of Inhabiting “Childhood”: Children, Labour and Schooling in Postcolonial India (2014).
In the decade preceding India’s Right to Education Act (2009), which guarantees each child the right to quality elementary schooling, the Delhi High Court adjudicated several cases involving the city’s elementary schools. Not only was the volume of cases unprecedented, but each drew attention to a particular aspect of the highly iniquitous landscape of elementary education with several of the judgements shaping key provisions of this new law.
In my presentation, I will focus on a few of these cases, not analyzing their judgements, but rather to explore the heterogeneous elements that compose a “case” and foreground the ways the “child” was deployed, both empirically and figuratively, to signal a certain urgency. My attempt is to both anchor as well as open up the discussion around “inequality” and “social justice” in elementary education in India by asking how judgements, which are perceived as a strong challenge to those who govern, get turned into a technology of power through the Right to Education Act. In what ways does invoking the “child” as an agential figure capable of exercising “rights” appear to ironically regulate the project of “social justice” at the same time that it underscores the inequality that underlies schooling?